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Panthers defeat Eels 36-12

Monday April 30, 2018 Written by Published in League
Tupapa Panther winger Jovilisi Naqitawa bumps off two Avatiu/Nikao defenders to score in the corner Tupapa Panther winger Jovilisi Naqitawa bumps off two Avatiu/Nikao defenders to score in the corner

Devastating wing play and a powerful performance by the forwards formed the backbone of the Tupapa Panthers’ stunning 36-12 beatdown of the previously unbeaten Avatiu Eels in the round 12 feature match of the domestic rugby league competition.

Coming off the back of their first loss, the Panthers looked like they would struggle to match the firepower of their opponents.

However, right from the get-go they dominated, and had clearly identified a weakness for the Eels on the flanks because that is where they prospered, scoring seven of their eight tries down the left or right wing.

Right winger Jovilisi Naqitawa was the main beneficiary of the Panthers game plan, scoring the first of his three tries when he collected a cut-out pass then bowled over a defender to score.

The exact same play worked on the opposite wing just a few minutes later, with centre Joe Vetaukula collecting the four-pointer.

The Eels had no response to the simple Panthers play, and soon fell victim to another Naqitawa short-range four-pointer.

Although his first two tries required more strength than finesse, the giant Fijian winger got a chance to stretch his legs late in the piece, as he got the ball in space, fended off his opposite and galloped 40 metres to dot down under the sticks and give his side an 18-0 lead.

Panthers ended the near-perfect first half with their fifth try, this time to replacement Teina Savage near the posts, and headed into halftime leading 24-0, with the only blot on their first forty being the goal kicking.

Despite a really strong Eels unit, the reason the Panthers were able to dominate so thoroughly was their authoritative performance, with Thomas Toa, Rangi Piri, Sam Mataora and Eric Newbigging leading the challenge against the top-ranked side, and the Eels were not able to respond in kind.

Sometimes they required three or four defenders to slow down the runners, leaving their centres and wingers out on an island that Panthers more than took advantage of. Mataora in particular once again showed his NRL-level class, with the former Newcastle Knight leaving everything out on the field.

The second half saw Eels strike first, with commanding centre Tua Ravula exploiting a one-on-one match off a scrum to race down half the field to score.

Outside of that, Ravula was largely bottled up, meaning that the open brand of football that the Eels are so successful at was almost non-existent.

Panthers re-established their 20-point-plus lead when they crossed again, and although Ravula was able to add a second with a close-range try, the game was all over bar the shouting.

Naqitawa crossed the line for what could have been his fourth, but rather than putting the ball down, he handed off to his centre to score, perhaps as a thank you for the exemplary service.

Adding insult to injury, Eels lock Tama Nicholas, who was perhaps the top player in yellow on the day, was given his marching orders to the sinbin very late in the second half.

Commentator George George said after the game that Naqitawa was his pick for man of the match, for his three tries, and that Newbigging and Mataora built a strong platform that the rest of the team fed off. For the Eels, he picked Ravula, who prevented the game from being a whitewash, and Nicholas, the yellow card notwithstanding.

“You look at how active he was in the tackle, and he was a constant presence in attack, the game would have been far more one-sided had Tama Nicholas not been out there.”

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